Service of Prayer, Reflection, and Imposition of Ashes

Worship Spirit of the Living God
Worship Spirit of the Living God

Here are a few shots from our service last night. For me personally it was a physically and emotionally draining day, but a good one. I always like this particular service for the mere fact it starts a time of reflection and prayer, which moves our focus toward what’s really the greatest celebration of the year, Easter.

Last night was more about recognizing our own brokenness, our own mortality, and coming in a posture of humility to the Creator with our lives. It is still amazing to me how busy we get, how filled our schedules become, and in that business we often lose touch with the reason for our ultimate existence and why we do what we do.

Josh Agerton Reads from the Psalms
Josh Agerton Reads from the Psalms
Dustin Adams Playing Guitar
Dustin Adams Playing Guitar
Chandler Serves the Imposition of Ashes
Chandler Serves the Imposition of Ashes

Cornerstone Celebration Dinner 2013

Cornerstone Church Celebration Dinner 2013
Cornerstone Church Celebration Dinner 2013

Last night our church came together to celebrate what God has done in the life of our church over the previous year along with putting out the vision for what Cornerstone looks like in the year 2020. It was a great night, but it was a launching point for 2013. We still have one more night to go tonight, so if anyone happens to be reading this in Auburn and wants to come join the celebration there are still a few seats left. I didn’t get to take too many shots last night, but here are a few.

Cornerstone Church Celebration Dinner 2013
The Dinner at Cornerstone Church Celebration Dinner 2013
Cornerstone Church Celebration Dinner 2013
Cornerstone Church Celebration Dinner 2013
Cornerstone Church Celebration Dinner 2013
Cornerstone Church Celebration Dinner 2013

Seeing Our Next Team Off to Uganda Today

Cornerstone Church Uganda Team Leaves for Atlanta
Cornerstone Church Uganda Team Leaves for Atlanta

Today instead of going on the trip to Uganda with the team from last year, I got to see them off to the Atlanta airport. It was a sad goodbye for me personally since I’m staying behind, but I know God is going to work among these eight people pictured above over the next week in Uganda. This team is going to build on so many other teams that have already gone and come back, intent on sharing the love of Christ with others in a culture and context far different from the comfortable life we live in the western world.

You can see a little more about what the trips are like from my previous posts in the Uganda tag, and if you want to follow along with this particular team you can follow April Olive’s blog as she updates throughout the trip. I can’t wait to hear about their trip, it is quite an experienced group of travelers with a heart for the people of Uganda.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Solitary

Children's Remand Facility in Uganda Africa
A teenager watches others play at a children’s remand facility in Uganda

As soon as I read the topic for this week’s photo challenge I immediately thought about several images I took at these so-called remand homes in Uganda (to read more details and see more photos go to these two posts They are Hidden but Not Forgotten and The Challenge of Being Salt and Light in the Darkness). These two images presented here for this week’s post were taken 24 hours apart from each other at two completely different areas in Uganda hours away from each other, at a place defined by solitary from the rest of the world. The desperation for children who sometimes get stuck in here for years ranges from joy in just being alive to actually dying from malnutrition.

There is a missional group called Sixty Feet who have a team on the ground there 24/7, and they do some fantastic work over there with these kids. Since these images were taken, Cornerstone Church has sent several teams to visit these facilities to try to provide a little hope to those who find themselves in this situation. We have another team leaving this coming Tuesday (see updates on this blog) with plans for several more teams over the next six months.

As a part of the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge on Solitary I would challenge everyone to take a look at Sixty Feet and just see what they are doing in Uganda. Even if you have no intention of partnering with this group at all, just check out what they are doing in Uganda and make yourself aware of what life is like for some of these children. They are in a desperate situation, but many had more joy than I’ve seen anywhere else in the world within the most unimaginable situations.

Children's Remand Facility in Uganda Africa
Child looks on at a children’s remand facility in Uganda

The Future of Cornerstone Church is in Your Hands, No Pressure

Cornerstone Church Kids Staff
Cornerstone Church Kids Staff

Any of you who know me well know I don’t post too often about kids stuff, but today was a banner day for the future of our kids at Cornerstone Church. I have been to a lot of churches over the last 40 years, and I have visited churches who have very little evidence of kids in the building. While I’m not a “kids person” per se, this is a sure sign of a church with a hard future ahead of it, and the Church body itself needs it’s kids.

Over the last 3-4 weeks our kids staff, shown above, along with a host of other people, implemented a plan they had worked on tirelessly over the summer months. Meeting after meeting to go over every painstaking detail transformed the hallways, classrooms, and worship space for every little soul from new borns to our youth, and for kids who haven’t even been born yet. Think about the transformation in terms of a franchise. We love franchises all over the country because they are consistent, stable, and we know what we are going to get when we go into the building. We want our kids at every site to have the same worship experience no matter where they are, to have a consistent, stable, feeding on the word of God, while being surrounded by a community of believers.

In a very fragile time in history for the Church in our culture, this makes me excited for the future of the Church body. Investing in our kids is investing in the future of God’s Church. I’m thankful for these five ladies, and all the other people who worked so hard to make today happen, especially for the kids who have never walked into one of our children’s areas at Cornerstone Church. The future of Cornerstone Church, and the Church body as a whole, is in the hands of these woman above, but it’s also in the hands of every single individual who follows the teachings of Jesus. When you give to a child, you have given it to Christ himself.

New Walls and Floors in the Kids Area
New Walls and Floors in the Kids Area

To Honor a Local Artist Cindy Massey and Her Murals

Murals by Cindy Massey at Cornerstone Church

As with all things, change is inevitable. Change is actually the one thing that actually stays constant, and this week we began an extensive remodeling process that would bring the vision of Cornerstone Church together. After more than a year of planning, in February 2012, Cornerstone opened its first off-site location, called our Cornerstone Church at Lee-Scott site. The leadership of the church envisioned a multi-site church, a single church with multiple locations, one where the worship experience, the DNA of the church, would be the same no matter which site you visited. To accomplish this, among many other things, it was decided we needed to remodel the kids area to match all other sites, present and future, which brings me to this post.

Back in 2005, a few years before Deb and I arrived, our local church started to execute plans for a new building. As you can imagine there were so many different aspects of planning and visioning that went on among the staff and executive council at the time, and one of those areas was what we call Kidztown (our children’s area). A vision was put together by the then youth and children’s director for what type of environment would greet the kids visually when they came into the Kidztown area. This vision included a fun themed design of murals with different shops and stores for each room.

Once the theme had been envisioned the hunt was on for an artist who could make this vision come to life. Cornerstone Church decided to hire a local artist, Cindy Massey, to make this vision come alive on the walls of the kids area, and she did. The amazing part of the story is how God works through the church body because after she finished painting the walls of this new church building her family started coming to Cornerstone, and they were some of the pioneers who started the new Lee-Scott site! For about seven years now the kids have walked through the halls of her artistic work, which covered just about every inch of wall and window space we had.

So, here, to honor the work of an artist we hired to cover the walls of the church with beautiful murals, I present a small sampling of that work. Please keep in mind, this is one artists rendition of another artists work (kinda weird), so, along with the thousands and thousands of kids who graced these halls, this is what I will remember about her work. I know Cornerstone appreciates and values the work she did, and I’m glad I can showcase a bit of that here. Thanks Cindy!

What is the Church? 10 Things the Bible Says About the Church

Cornerstone Church at Lee-Scott Open Air Worship Service
Cornerstone Church at Lee-Scott Open Air Worship Service

Over the past several years of seminary work I have had the privilege of studying the church. There are a lot of different answers to that question (just look how many different churches there are in this country). Yesterday was our first open-air outdoor worship service at our Cornerstone Lee-Scott site. Not because we all wanted to sit in the sun and fry, but because they were refinishing the hard wood floors in the basketball gym where we worship, but it ended up being a fantastic service, and a great reminder to all of us what exactly we mean when we say we are “going to church.” Today our churches can be places that become so internalized with our own events and “church life” we don’t even realize we have stopped living out Matthew 28:16-20. So yesterday, as we sat out in the heat, we got a good reminder that church is not a building, or a gym, or a place to “go,” but a people we serve with.

I think those in my generation and older are still quite set that we “go to church” at a church building, and that was just never the case with the New Testament Church. Our site pastor, Josh Agerton, gave a very appropriate message on this very topic, to discuss what misconceptions we bring to the word “ekklesia.” This word, ekklesia, meaning local church, was established by Christ Himself (Matt. 16:18), and then we see it in action for the first time in Acts 1:12 when Matthias was chosen to replace Judas.

I love that our particular church is willing to do things like worship in a gym, or outside on a hot day, to better reach our community for Christ. Our culture today tends to the Bible with tradition, and personal preference, to create these glorious buildings we can go hide in from cradle to grave in some cases. Clearly, God’s plan is that born again Christians be a part of a local church. Nowhere in the New Testament, after the institution of the local church was established, do you find believers serving God outside the authority or rule of the local church.

So what are a few things the bible says about the church? This top ten list below is no where near a complete and total list, nor is it compiled into any specific symmetry, but it does show what the Bible says about the Church. Notice there are a TON of things the Bible doesn’t say the church should that we have made it out to be (but that is a whole different post).

10 Things the Bible Says About the Church

  1. The Bible is the Sole Authority
    There is no only authority for the New Testament church other than that of Scripture for the faith and practice of a True New Testament Church. (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21; John 5:39 and many others).
  2. Believers are Instructed Not to Forsake Meeting Together
    If a believer is not part of a local church, whatever form that takes today, is in disobedience to God’s word. Scripture clearly teaches we are to meet or “assemble” with each other periodically. When the church meets, we should be there to support it (Hebrews 10:24-25).
  3. Believers are to be Under the Leadership of the Pastor and Church
    This is so difficult for us today, especially in the U.S.A. where we are told we are our own authority in everything we do. We are supposed submit to the authority of the church, and be lead by it’s leadership (Acts 20:28; 13:2).
  4. The New Testament Church is Only Made Up of Saved Individuals
    This is clearly indicated in Scripture as well. The church body is not made up of secular people as with any other civil club, members are believers, that’s it (Acts 2:41, 47).
  5. The New Testament Church Has Only Two Ordinances
    The Lord’s Supper and Baptism, which are not sacraments, are the only two ordinances called for in Scripture (Acts 2:41-42). We have a lot of other traditions and things that take place in the church, but these are the only two ordinances Scriptures calls for.
  6. All Believers are Placed in the Local Church upon their Baptism (Acts 1:15; 2:47)
  7. Believers are to Learn Doctrine in the Local Church
    For those of us who love to learn Scripture, here we go, but our culture today is moving more and more towards an anti-intellectualism, which is no more Biblical than forsaking the widows and orphans. This also means the local church is supposed to TEACH doctrine as well (Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Corinthians 12;  2 Timothy 4:1-4; Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 5:25; Acts 20:28).
  8. A Believer’s Responsibility to Missions as part of a Local Church
    A believer ought to be a part of supporting missions through their local church. The clear New Testament example is that it was the local church which sent forth missionaries. No church has the authority to delegate this responsibility to anyone else which would include mission boards, conventions, or any agency outside the local congregation (Acts 15:3, 20:38, 21:5, Rom. 15:24, 1 Cor. 16:6,11, 2 Cor. 1:16, Titus 3:13, 3 John 6).
  9. If One Member Suffers All Suffer With Them
    The local church is the support center of people to surround the believer in good times and in bad (1 Corinthians 12:26).
  10. Believers are Given the Responsibility and Privilege of Supporting the Local Church Financially
    There are probably more ways to get out of this than there are ways to count, but Scripture clearly says we are to financially support our local church, and it says this clearly and unequivocally that we are to give money to our local church, even Abraham did this. (1 Cor. 16:1-2, 2 Cor. 8-9)
On a practical level, what is the church? These shots below are just a very few examples of where our church assembled for fellowship yesterday. But this location at Lee-Scott Academy is not where the church is, the church is dispersed all throughout our city and county, this is just where we met yesterday.

Church and Amazing Lyrics of How Deep the Father's Love for Us

Cornerstone Church at Lee-Scott Band Warmup

Cornerstone Church at Lee-Scott Drummer Warmup for Worship

The shot above was one I took while the band was warming up for worship this morning. I never get tired of being around the worship band and their practices. It is just as much a part of worship to me as when the official worship time begins. This church location, our second site, has been meeting in a basketball gym since February, and I love how it forces us to look at church from a new perspective again.

One of the songs we sung today, a modern hymn called How Deep the Father’s Love For Us by Kings Kaleidoscope on their album Sin, which was original written by Stuart Townend many years ago, has become one of my favorites because of the amazing lyrics and how it was written. It was released almost 2 years ago at this point but every time I read this poem, or listen to it being sung, it just hits home why we believe what we believe.

As mere created beings we can’t possibly fathom how deep God loves us, but the part that always rests with me is when the writer says “I hear my mocking voice, call out among the scoffers.” What an incredible thought to process and ponder. You can listen to the song from a link at the top of this post, but the rest of it goes like this:

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that left Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

I guess everyone has different stretching points in words and in music that makes them emotionally tied to one work over another. This one for me brings out the beauty and sadness in sacrifice for someone who finally gets it. I love that we can worship a God this great, through these words, and do it with a basketball goal above our heads.

A Look at the Visioning and Planning Process of the Church Body

Monthly All Staff Meeting at Cornerstone

It may not look like it at first glance, but this is part of the hard work that goes into following Christ wholeheartedly, what we call, Leading People to Know and Serve Jesus. I have learned an amazing amount about how the church body functions since I went on staff in late 2008. One of the incredible things about being on staff is the behind the scenes look you get at the visioning and planning process the church body goes through, continually. To see God actively working, guiding his people through the process of being the church, is a great privilege. Today was one of those rare monthly staff meetings where almost everyone on staff was in the room. There are almost as many people behind me in the photo above as there are in front of me, and still we had a few people who couldn’t be there today.

One thing that never stops amazing me is how hard everyone works, not just at my church, but at most all the churches I have come into contact with over the years. There are so many people who make the church body what it is. Countless volunteers who have sacrificed time, and money, to be the hands and feet of Christ. Of the many topics discussed today, one was how to tell the stories of these volunteers and other people who’s lives have been changed by Christ’s work through his church, like some of our seniors going to Uganda last week instead of going somewhere like Panama City Beach for a party.

I’m not really sure why this particular post came to be tonight, this just happened to be what was on my mind as I recalled events from my day. I do know this type of planning and these type of stories, go on endlessly, because God is at work in His people endlessly. If you haven’t been in church for a while, there is no better time than now. Sunday is less than 7 days away, and you aren’t reading this by accident any more than I wrote this by accident. Don’t just keep looking around for that perfect church, there isn’t one. Christ, who built the church out of imperfect people, can change your life forever, and he can use us imperfect people of the church to do it.

The Future Mr and Mrs Dow Engagement :: Photos

This afternoon I had the privilege of shooting a surprise engagement for some friends of mine. It is always a great treat for me to be able to be a part of such a personal and intimate moment as this, I’m honored they asked me to be there. John had this all planned, for quite some time, in great detail, and at least from my perspective, it went very well. Here are just a few of the images from that moment, thanks to the happy couple for allowing me to share some of their private moments with the world. Congratulations guys!

Future Mr and Mrs John Dow Engagement

Future Mr and Mrs John Dow Engagement

Future Mr and Mrs John Dow Engagement

Future Mr and Mrs John Dow Engagement

Future Mr and Mrs John Dow Engagement